High Court set to deliver judgment on high seas detention of 157 Tamils

The High Court will tomorrow hand down its decision on a legal challenge to the Australian Government’s high seas detention of 157 Tamil asylum seekers on board a customs vessel for nearly a month.

During a two day hearing in October last year, the Full Court of the High Court heard submissions on behalf of the asylum seekers and the Government and received written submissions from the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser, said the asylum seekers had endured a truly harrowing ordeal.

“157 people – including 50 children – spent nearly a month detained at sea. For the most part they had no idea where they were or where our Government planned to send them, nor did the Australian people. Bringing this case has provided some much needed transparency and accountability around their treatment,” said Mr de Kretser.

“Their treatment was cruel. It was in clear breach of international law. This case will decide whether it was in breach of Australian law as well”, said Mr de Kretser.

The HRLC has been assisting the legal team in the case, brought by Shine Lawyers and Ron Merkel QC.

Shine Lawyers Special Counsel George Newhouse said that it was vital that the group of asylum seekers had their day in court.

“There were children as young as one on that boat. Both their high seas detention and the secrecy surrounding it was inexcusable. While their ordeal isn’t over and they continue to languish in inhumane conditions on Nauru, this case has at least brought vital scrutiny over the way they were treated at sea,” said Mr Newhouse.

A detailed briefing on the case can be found here.

 

For further information or comments, contact:
Hugh de Kretser
, Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director, 0403 965 340, Hugh.deKretser@hrlc.org.au
George Newhouse
, Shine Lawyers Special Counsel, 0419 232 464
Tom Clarke
, HRLC Director of Communications 0422 545 763 tom.clarke@hrlc.org.au